COMTECT®: A Filipino Entrepreneur’s Story
It has always been said that necessity is the mother of invention.
Throughout history, human needs and problems have driven men and women around world to seek and discover solutions. Edison and his light bulb, the Wright brothers and the airplane, Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press, and even Hollywood actress Hedy Lamar who invented the precursor to Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS—in the 1940’s.
The Philippines has its own share of tinkerers who changed the world for the better—such as Diosdado Banatao with the 10 Megabit Ethernet—or, depending where you stand, for worse—such as Roberto Del Rosario with his (in)famous Karaoke Sing-Along System.
The Mad Scientist
Even as a child, Boyet Espino already had a penchant for creating new things. None of his toys lasted for long, as he would take these apart to find out how they worked. He would then proceed to cannibalize them to create his own. He found more satisfaction fashioning an old rubber tsinelas into a boat powered by the electric motor scavenged from a Christmas gift from his ninong than the original toy itself. He was dubbed Mad Scientist in high school during which, among many others, he concocted gunpowder to create his own fireworks and, in one particularly insane moment, even synthesized nitroglycerine—and nearly blew up their house.
Rediscovering an Old Flame and Hate
In 2016, Espino rediscovered a love from his younger years when he acquired his first motorcycle—a 110cc Honda Beat scooter. Running smack into the middle of a traffic jam the moment he took it out of the village, he also remembered the only thing he disliked about motorcycle riding—the incredible heat. Because they lack both roof and air conditioning, motorcycles can become extremely uncomfortable for riders when stuck in slow moving or standstill traffic.
In classic Freudian Lustprinzip fashion,Espino wanted to avoid the discomforts of motorcycle riding; and thus awakened the inventor within.
The Method of the Mad
In true mad scientist fashion, Espino set off on a hilarious quest for a cooling solution for motorcycle riders. He tried all cooling technologies available—from thermoelectric cooling chips, to tubes running around his body, mini air conditioning compressors, etc. At one point, he was even seen by family members walking around with a vacuum cleaner hose stuck under his shirt, running vacuum cleaner in tow.
The quest went on for months; and nothing seemed to work—everything he tried was just too complicated and expensive. Until one day, during a camping trip to Baler, the resort staff handed Espino a rechargeable portable fan to cool off. The mere sight of it set off light bulbs in his brain; and he knew he had the answer.
Irony of ironies, it was the simplest, most obvious one that turned out best.
The Birth of COMTECT®
On returning home from vacation, the mad scientist immediately developed his first prototype by cutting holes into an old jacket and sticking fans onto it—the moment he tried it on, he knew he had something.
His excitement building, Espino then contracted an international patent law firm which came back with even more encouraging news: There was no other motorcycle jacket in the world that had an integrated cooling system—the Mad Scientist had actually done it and created something nobody else had. He had First Mover Advantage!
After giving the patent lawyer the green light to go ahead with the patent registration, Espino then decided on a brand name that will convey the essence of his product: COMTECT: (COMfort+ProTECTion).
COMTECT® and its underlying Active Cooling System technology are now registered with the Philippine Intellectual Property Office. The COMTECT® brand is undergoing registration in 10 countries under the Madrid Protocol.
How it Works
With their combination of abrasion-resistant outer shells and safety padding, traditional motorcycle riding jackets have very poor heat dissipation characteristics. This makes them undesirable to wear among many riders, particularly those in urban areas. COMTECT® addresses this issue by utilizing a system of fans to draw cool air from the outside, circulate it around the body and vent out the warm, moist air.
The Active Cooling System has been field tested to reduce the Heat Index experience by the rider by as much almost 27 degrees Celsius. It is actually cooler to wear a COMTECT® jacket even when under the sun.
Market Launch and Response
Since he was uncertain of production capability, Espino opted for a limited launch of COMTECT® at select motorcycle shops. Because of the complete novelty of the product, he went for direct demonstrations with customers. “COMTECT is best experienced, not explained” as he put it.
End users welcomed the product; unanimously accepting it as a breakthrough in riding comfort and safety. That it was a Filipino invention made it all the more appealing.
Espino takes great pride in his Filipino heritage (all COMTECT products bear a stylized Philippine flag and the tagline “Proud to be Pinoy”). Thus, from the onset, he wanted an all-Filipino product—designed, patented and manufactured in the Philippines.
For two (2) years, he tried to retain manufacturing in the country. However, the very limited choices of raw materials available, outdated manufacturing technology and inadequate workforce skill proved to be unsurmountable obstacles—the first-generation jackets were simply not up to par with the imported competition. He knew that he couldn’t hope to compete with the quality of the imported products.
He was nonetheless undeterred: “I will not stop until my quality is equal to or better than the imports”, he often said.
Going World Class
“My competitors have the advantage of quality over me. My advantage is technology. They cannot overcome my advantage because it is exclusive to me. But I can wipe out their quality advantage by bringing my manufacturing to where they do theirs.”
Late October 2019, Espino travelled to China and closed an Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) deal with a large manufacturer of top global brands of motorcycle apparel. After two years of frustration trying to come up with a quality product, he finally got what he wanted—a product that can go head to head with the world’s best.
Asked if he did not compromise the Filipino identity of his product, Espino has this to say: “If COMTECT is to be the global brand that I intend it to be, then I have to do what the global brands are doing. No matter where it is manufactured, COMTECT will forever be a Filipino original.”
With manufacturing and quality issues out of the way, the intrepid entrepreneur was finally ready to rumble.
But fate wasn’t done playing games yet.
Espino began 2020 on a high note. The pre-production sample submitted by the OEM exceeded his expectations, and he was on the verge of forging an agreement with one of the leading motorcycle taxi operators to supply all their riders with COMTECT jackets. Everything was to be green and go after the Chinese New Year. It didn’t happen.
China all but ground to a halt after the Chinese New Year holidays. For weeks, he couldn’t get in touch with the manufacturer. It was a frustrating time.
With a combination of perseverance and luck however, he found another manufacturer in Pakistan. Like the Chinese OEM, the Pakistani company was also OEM for known European and global brands. Wasting no time, Espino immediately placed an order, which was delivered in mid-September.
The Road Ahead
Although the country and the rest of the world is still reeling from COVID-19, Espino remains very optimistic about the future, and his reasons for being so appear sound.
First, market response to the Pakistan-made jackets has been encouraging; with the limited edition COVID-19 Battle Edition almost sold out in just over a month. Second, negotiations with one of the largest motorcycle retailer chains to include COMTECT jackets in their financing packages are well on the way. Third, one of the largest motorcycle rider training schools in the United States is looking to be the COMTECT distributor in the West Coast.
He is also in the closing stages of having COMTECT adopted as the standard uniform of Philippine law enforcement agencies.
It’s Always Half Full
Looking at the economic conditions created by COVID-19, one cannot help but wonder if Espino is indeed a bit mad in his optimism. He seems to have a happy answer to everything.
Motorcycle sales were down 46% in the first 2020 compared to the same period last year. “Yes, it’s down 46%. But they did sell 451,034 units first half of 2020. That’s still a lot.”
The economy is down, and recovery may take years. “Yes, but as the economy shrinks, less people will be able to afford cars, and will move to motorcycles as their primary transport because they are more affordable and cheaper to run.”
Motorcycles are uncomfortable and dangerous, which is why many people don’t like them. “That’s why we’re here to provide COMfortable proTECTion.”
Why are you like that? How can you be so optimistic in these dark times? “Because I prefer to focus my attention on the light at the end of the tunnel and spend my energy getting to it; rather than fear the darkness around me. I am not the kind to lay down and die. That’s just not the way I’m wired.”